A class-action lawsuit filed in federal court on behalf of Nassau's minority communities says the county during the administration of former County Executive Edward Mangano imposed a property tax assessment system that discriminated against nonwhite homeowners.
The 62-page lawsuit says the county in Mangano's first year in office in 2010, “imposed irrational and discriminatory policies and procedures” by shifting more than $1.7 billion in property taxes from wealthier, white communities to lower income, nonwhite communities.
It is the first legal action to seek monetary damages for such homeowners, said David Bishop, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
The case comes two years after a Newsday investigation exposed the shift in tax burden and the hardship that imposed on senior citizens and less affluent residents — many of them in minority communities — who were less likely to appeal their property assessments.
"The political system is not going to compensate the class that was intentionally harmed by the county,” Bishop said. “The Mangano administration knew what it was doing, knew it was wrong and knew it would shift tens of millions of dollars of tax burden onto homeowners in minority neighborhoods."
The lawsuit suit cites precedent in another Nassau tax discrimination case, Coleman v. Seldin. The New York Civil Liberties Union sued Nassau County in 1997 on behalf of minority homeowners in an attempt to invalidate the assessment system that, at the time, used 1938 market values, creating disparities.
A settlement was reached in 2000 and the court ordered Nassau to adopt a revaluation system and tax assessment system that is “nondiscriminatory, scientific, equitable and based on fair market value.”
The new lawsuit says in January 2010 the county abandoned those policies, reverting to an outdated method.
The plaintiffs say the Mangano administration “knew and intended that the burden would primarily affect nonwhite, elderly, disabled, and lower-income property owners, the kinds of people who are statistically least able to bear greater financial burdens.”
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat who took office last year, says she is trying to fix the assessment system. The county has completed a reassessment of more than 400,000 parcels in what Curran has described as an effort to correct property tax rolls frozen during the Mangano administration.
But Legis. Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), legislative presiding officer, said the new suit "was conceived by the Democrats in an effort to rescue the County Executive’s unpopular, mistake ridden assessment process. The Legislature will not be silenced by this lawsuit.”
Plaintiff Wayne Hall, a former mayor of Hempstead Village, said, "someone has to bring this to the forefront. I’m not looking for a payout but they [Nassau County] need to pay for what they did to the seniors and minorities -- the discrimination that was being allowed for those eight years.”
Curran spokeswoman Christine Geed said Friday the county does not comment on pending litigation.
With Celeste Hadrick